Indigenous leaders voice frustration over being left out of new CFS block funding process

Three Indigenous leaders are raising concerns over not being included in the decision-making process behind a new block funding model for Manitoba child welfare agencies.

Council meets with families minister amid concerns 'single envelope' framework won't include Indigenous input

Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand, left, Southern Chiefs' Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, centre, and MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee met with Families Minister Heather Stefanson on Thursday over concerns they have about the new CFS block funding model. (CBC)

Three Indigenous leaders are raising concerns over not being included in the decision-making process behind a new block funding model for Manitoba child welfare agencies.

Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand, Southern Chiefs' Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee, brought their concerns up in a meeting with Families Minister Heather Stefanson Thursday.

Earlier this month Stefanson announced a shift to a "single envelope" distribution model in 2019-20. It will see Manitoba's four child and family services authorities collectively receive $435 million, including the federal children's special allowance. It will be up them to divvy up the funds among the 24 child welfare agencies in the province that deliver services.

Right now, agencies are funded based on how many children are in their care, which the province has criticized as incentivizing apprehension.

The change comes into effect April 1.

Members of the Indigenous council were previously involved in talks surrounding a block funding pilot project that is underway, but they say they didn't have input in the recently-announced system-wide change.

Some have questioned how funds will be split up or wondered whether it will lead to some agencies being under-funded.

Daniels agrees with the block funding concept in principle, but he says the verdict is out over how it will work in practice.

Daniels says the government is rushing ahead with system-wide changes before studying the outcomes of a pilot project that's ongoing. (CBC)

"The concept actually breaks down into a formula and the formula doesn't work as it is right now, and that's why we looked at pilot projects [that] were supposed to inform the decision-making process around block funding," he said.

"They haven't even waited for their results to come back yet, it's just ending this year, so how can you base policy on something that you still haven't even analyzed?" 

'What's good for our children'

Chartrand said the announcement left the leaders with many questions.

"As a leadership council we got very concerned that we didn't know the full facts of what this will entail, how will it impact all of our agencies, our authority, impacts to our families, our children," said ​Chartrand.

Chartrand said he left the meeting with the impression Indigenous leaders will be included in talks as block funding nears implementation April 1. (CBC)

"We need this government to tell us: do they believe in the leadership council, do they respect the First Nation and Métis governments, are they going to include us in these discussions prior to arbitrarily telling us what's good for our children?"

Settee said the meeting gave the council and Stefanson a chance to examine the new process together. He said without oversight from the Indigenous council, he fears the block funding model could take a unilateral structure to the detriment of Indigenous kids in care.

"That is our utmost concern," he said. "Those are First Nation children, and I think that it is imperative that we be included in any talks, any decisions being made on behalf of of First Nation children."

Settee said the block funding announcement produced fears that a system without input from Indigenous leaders could negatively impact First Nations kids in care. (CBC)

As of March 31, 2018, 90 per cent of the 10,700 Manitoba children in care were Indigenous.

Settee said after the meeting with Stefanson there is hope among the council they will have a say moving forward.

'Many changes' coming

Stefanson wouldn't release details about how funding will be split up, though she said the Indigenous council will be involved in figuring that out.

The meeting Thursday was positive, she said, and there will be opportunities to work together as the new model nears implementation.

Stefanson said the Indigenous council will have a say on block funding moving forward. (CBC)

"There's many, many changes that are going to be taking place with respect to the child welfare system, not only in our province but also in our country with changes to our CFS legislation federally," she said. 

"We have committed moving forward to having more of a dialogue, and I think that it's important."

The council and Stefanson are expected to meet again in two weeks.

With files from Nelly Gonzalez